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Maine & Lowell Preview

Maine Black Bears 3-6-1 (3-5-0) Hockey East T-6th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 4-4-2 (2-4-2) Hockey East T-6th

For the second week in a row UMass will have a chance to face the opponents whom they’re tied with in the Hockey East standings.  Last week it was the Minutemen and Northeastern Huskies facing off to try to break the tie for 7th.  Now UMass finds themselves in a three way tie with this weekend’s foes, Maine and Lowell.  It’s a great chance for UMass to try to break away from these teams and try to begin to separate themselves from the bottom of the standings.  Before the season one probably looked at this weekend and saw games against a tough opponent and one not so much.  Now just a month and half in that’s still the case but the roles of the two teams have switched.

Maine comes into the weekend struggling.  They have only three wins in their ten games and were just swept at home by the Lowell River Hawks, something that hasn’t happened since the early 80s.  Maine has played a relatively tough schedule so far with a couple games out in North Dakota as well as games against Boston College and UNH, but so far they’ve only been able to pick up wins against Providence (twice) and Northeastern.  The early losses have only given the “Fire Timmy!” contingent of Maine fans more ammunition and for the first time I think it’s justified.

Maine has two players among the top ten in goal scoring in Hockey East, but the problem is they’re not getting offense from more than just a handful of players.  Not unexpectedly they’ve gotten goals from Joey Diamond, Spencer Abbott, and Brian Flynn, but aside from those three no one else has more than two.  As a result Maine comes into the game scoring under 3 goals a game at 2.80, 8th among Hockey East teams.  They haven’t scored more than 3 goals in their last 5 games.  Their power play isn’t helping much at just 17.4%, but what is really concerning for their fans is the fact that they’ve let in 5 shorthanded goals with the extra man.  Scoring just 8 power play goals while giving up 5 shorthanded will not lead to success.

Maine has been doing a better job defensively than UMass, allowing 3,30 goals per game to the Minutemen’s 3.60.  Still, that puts them in the bottom half in the league.  They’ve used both of their goaltenders equally, with Dan Sullivan and Martin Ouellette both getting 5 starts apiece.  If the Minutemen see Ouellette, perhaps Steve Mastalerz can give some pointers as he backed up Ouellette while they were both a Kimball Union Academy.  Statistically they’re both about dead even with roughly a 3.30 goals against average and .875 save percentage.  Senior defensemen Will O’Neil and Ryan Hegarty will do their best to keep the UMass forwards away from the Black Bear goaltenders.

Maine is struggling and has a week of tough practices and even player only meetings.  It’s likely that they’re fired up and will come out playing very tough in the first period on Friday.  It’ll be important for UMass to weather that initial rush and try their best to maintain puck possession to slowly control the pace of the game.  Judging by the fact that Toot Cahoon was very unhappy after the Northeastern win, it may not have been a fun week of practice in Amherst either.  For the most part his frustration came from the play at the end of the 3rd period where he felt mistakes could’ve led them to relinquish the lead.  UMass is undefeated so far at home and picking two points against a team that’s is spinning their wheels currently has to be a priority.  These games against teams near them in the standings, like last week with Northeastern, are absolutely critical.

Lowell River Hawks 5-3-0 (3-2-0) Hockey East T-6th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 4-4-2 (2-4-2) Hockey East T-6th

The River Hawks are one of the bigger surprises of the young college hockey season.  Winning just five games all last season they’ve already matched that total through eight games so far.  Like the Minutemen they enter the weekend on a three game winning streak that has included a sweep up at Orono and a 7-1 thrashing of Boston University.  In the friendly confines of the Tsongas Tsenter Lowell will look to break a five game losing streak to the flagship dating back two seasons.

Lowell has been getting the job done both offensively and defensively so far this season.  Thus far they have the top ranked offense among all Hockey East teams at 3.88 goals a game.  UMass is right behind them with 3.80.  Pacing the offense has been Riley Wetmore, one of the more exciting players in Hockey East, senior Matt Ferreira, and Scott Wilson, back-to-back Hockey East Rookie of the Week winner.  While last year’s Lowell team did not see a lot of success, their freshman class was highly regarded among recruiting circles.  That’s becoming evident with the emergence of guys like Derek Arnold and Joe Pendenza who have both contributed to the goalscoring as well.  They’ve been getting the job done at even strength and with the extra man as the Hawks are tied with Merrimack Valley neighbor Merrimack for the top power play in Hockey East.

While Lowell’s improved scoring has been impressive, it’s the progress they’ve made on defense that has really raised eyebrows so far.  After giving up a full four goals per game last year they’re allowing just 2.88 thus far.  The bulk of that improvement has been due to the play of sophomore Doug Carr.  His goals against of 2.20 is good enough for 2nd in the league while he’s third in save percentage with .913.  These are remarkable numbers considering his stats last year were 3.63 and .896.  Some of the credit has to go to the job done by the defense in front of him led by junior Malcolm Lyles.

If UMass has an advantage in this game it’s that nearly every one of the guys in Lowell sweaters was recruited by someone who is now a member of the UMass coaching staff.  Blaise MacDonald will be making his return to Tsongas on Saturday and is more familiar with the Lowell team than anyone outside current coach Norm Bazin.  I have not yet seen Lowell play, so I don’t know if they’re playing a fundamentally different style than they used to, but MacDonald should at least be able to pass along information to take advantage of players’ weakness and mitigate their strengths.  Depending what happens on Friday with UMass taking on Maine and Lowell visiting UNH, this could be one hell of a matchup between two teams on tremendous winning streaks already battling for leverage in the standings.

Beer The Triangle
Should be a good weekend beer-wise as well.  Tomorrow afternoon will of course be spent at the Hangar where I’ve been enjoying the Port High Tide, a fresh hop IPA, that has been on draft the last couple visits.  Perhaps a UMass win will lead to a trip to Amherst Brewing to try to grab one of the last pints of their Gone Postal IPA.  Saturday brings an early afternoon football game which means an early morning tailgate feature pancakes, bacon, and a special Beer The Triangle homebrew I brewed up especially for the last home game.  Farewell McGuirk is a Scottish wee heavy I made to honor the semi-temporary goodbye we’ll be saying to football on campus.  I’m still debating whether I’ll be making the trek from football down Route 2 to Lowell.  But if I do I’ll try to get over to Lowell Beer Works and one of their Accelerator Double Bock.

Dick Baker has a feature on Rocco Carzo and his transition to a more complete hockey player.

The Bangor Daily News says Maine’s goaltenders must be more consistent.

The Maine student paper claims Maine must right the ship at UMass.

Lowell could be a major player in the conference according to USCHO.

College Hockey News takes a look at the weekend ahead in the conference.

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2 Comments

  1. Monty

     /  November 18, 2011

    From the Lowell POV, you’ll see a completely different system than you’ve seen the past few years. We heard a lot about puck possession, going to the net more, etc when Bazin took over, but personally, I thought it would take some time to get that system in place. Instead, it’s happened pretty much from Day 1, and as a Lowell fan/alum, it’s been great to see. It’s definitely a much more enjoyable brand of hockey for neutral eyes as well.

    Hope to see you at BeerWorks!

    Like

  1. Hockey East Weekend Preview: 11/18 | Husky Hockey
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